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Margin for error is gone for Blue Devils’ bowl hopes

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DURHAM — A Duke football constant under head coach David Cutcliffe has been his willingness to reveal what he tells his players. Many paranoid coaches, citing confidentiality, won’t share their words with media — and thus not their fans.

Well, this week there is plenty to wonder what the Blue Devils are thinking.

With Duke coming off its worst loss of the year, 49-6 at home to a Syracuse, the Blue Devils’ backs are to the wall. Duke entered the Syracuse debacle needing to win two of three for bowl eligibility; now it’s two of two.

Duke (4-6, 2-4 ACC Coastal) travels to Wake Forest (7-3, 3-3 ACC Atlantic) Saturday night and finishes at home Nov. 30 against Miami (6-4, 4-3 ACC Coastal).

Cutcliffe explained he won’t accept excuses over its injury-riddled season. Same with bad bounces on interceptions that allowed to Syracuse to turn a 14-6 halftime score into a rout.

“I told our team this week my least favorite word is being frustrated,” Cutcliffe said. “I don’t like the word frustrated. That suggests there is no answer. We can be disappointed. We can be dejected for a little while. We can be angry. We can be a lot of things, but we’re not going to be frustrated.

“There are answers always. The answers come through work. They come through communication. They come through being detailed and tedious about everything we do. We all tend to look a little more closely and harder when times are tough. It’s just a natural human response.”


Two years ago, Wake Forest was bowl eligible while it hosted a Duke team needing to win its regular-season finale to earn a bowl bid. The Blue Devils won, 31-23.

Last season Wake Forest needed a win for bowl eligibility at Duke in the regular-season finale. Duke was bowl eligible but was embarrassed, 59-7.

“They came on our field and put, what, 50-something on us?” said Duke defensive end Chris Rumph II. “We’ve had this game marked on our schedule since last year.”


Duke left tackle Casey Holman worked out this week after a scary neck injury in the Syracuse loss. Holman was able to move while he was examined on the field, but his neck was braced and he was taken from the field on a stretcher to a hospital as a precautionary measure.

“There was no fracture,” Cutcliffe said. “He was out there with no contact, but he looks good.”

Whether he plays Saturday or joins the list of 13 players that have missed games with injuries is to be determined.

Redshirt junior Jaylen Miller, a 6-foot-3, 315-pounder, replaced Holman.


Duke basketball’s NCAA record for weeks it has been ranked No. 1 was extended to 143 and its seasons to 20.

The Blue Devils (4-0) ascended despite needing a strong second half to beat Georgia State, 74-63. Preseason No. 1 Michigan State (3-1) lost to Kentucky the first week and Kentucky (3-1), subsequently No. 1, lost to Evansville.

“It’s a long season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “There are many games and this (Georgia State) was a good learning experience.”

After the Blue Devils return from Madison Square Garden from playing in the 2K Empire Classic Thursday against Cal and Friday against the winner of the Georgetown-Texas contest, they are home to face Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 26 and Winthrop on Nov. 29.

But the upcoming red-letter date for all of college basketball is Duke traveling to Michigan State for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 3 at the Breslin Center.

Tom Shanahan is a freelance writer based in Cary and author of “Raye of Light,” a book featuring Fayetteville’s Jimmy Raye as a pioneering black quarterback for College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty on Michigan State’s Underground Railroad football teams of the 1960s.